Homemade Remedies Causing Contact Dermatitis: Case Report on Two Patients with Acne

Med & Health 2013; 8(1): 37-41
Homemade Remedies Causing Contact
Dermatitis: Case Report on Two Patients with
Department of Family Medicine, 2Dermatology Unit, Department of Medicine, Faculty
of Medicine, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Center, Jalan Yaacob Latiff, Bandar
Tun Razak, 56000 Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Produk semulajadi sering dirasakan selamat digunakan kerana ia dianggap suci
dan bebas dari sebarang bahan kimia. Walaubagaimanapun, ramai yang tidak
menyedari bahawa sebahagian daripada kandungan bahan semulajadi boleh
mengakibatkan kesan negatif kepada kulit. Kulit kayu manis dan limau adalah
di antara ramuan semulajadi yang kerap digunakan sebagai rawatan tradisional
untuk mengubati jerawat. Kedua-dua bahan ini boleh menyebabkan keradangan
apabila bersentuhan dengan kulit manusia. Tujuan utama artikel ini ialah untuk
menekankan bahawa penggunaan bahan semulajadi tidak semestinya bebas dari
sebarang kesan sampingan dan ia perlu diambil kira sebagai penyebab masalah
kulit seseorang pesakit yang menggunakannya. Pengamal-pengamal perubatan
perlu peka tentang kewujudan masalah ini dan harus menyoal pesakit tentang
penggunaan rawatan-rawatan buatan sendiri, kerana pesakit kadang-kala tidak
memberikan maklumat ini secara sukarela. Pengenalpastian bahan penyebab dan
kaunseling amat penting agar pesakit tidak mengulangi penggunaan bahan tersebut
bagi mengelakkan sebarang komplikasi di masa hadapan.
Kata kunci: alahan, jerawat, kayu manis, limau
Natural products are often perceived as safe due to the absence of artificial or
chemical materials in its content. However, many are unaware that some of these
compounds, albeit natural in existence, can cause harm. Cinnamon and lemon
are two commonly used home remedies for acne. Both these naturally existing
ingredients are capable of producing dermatitis upon contact with the human
Address for correspondence and reprint requests: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Leelavathi Muthupalaniappen,
Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Center, Jalan
Yaacob Latif, Bandar Tun Razak, 56000 Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Tel: 603 91456123 Fax: 603 9145 6688
Email: [email protected]
Med & Health 2013; 8(1): 37-41
Leelavathi M. et al.
skin. The aim of this article is to create awareness among physicians that natural
remedies are not free from harm hence, should look out for any possible untoward
reactions that these products may cause. Physicians need to explore the possible
use of homemade remedies to treat common or minor ailments during history
taking as this information may not be given voluntarily. Early identification of the
offending agent, adequate management and future avoidance could help prevent
further episodes of contact dermatitis and its complications.
acne, cinnamon, contact dermatitis, lemon, lime, phytophotodermatitis
Numerous homemade remedies
have been touted beneficial for acne.
In fact, natural remedies may be the
first or the preferred option advised
by elders or peers for treating acne.
This may be due to the perception
that natural products are safe for the
skin and have less potential to cause
adverse effects (Magin et al. 2006).
Hence, many maybe unaware that
certain natural remedies can cause
harm resulting in underreporting
by patients themselves or failure of
physicians to detect such cases.
Contact allergy to cinnamon has
been described as early in the 1960s
when it was noted to cause hand
eczema among bakers (Arthur 1960).
Lime on the other hand, causes
phytophotodermatitis which is a type
of dermatitis due to furocoumarin
(psoralens) found in certain plants and
vegetables. Contact with lime and
subsequent exposure to sunlight is
responsible for such a reaction (Robert
et al. 2008). We here report two female
patients who developed contact
dermatitis after topical application of
cinnamon and lime in an effort to selftreat their acne.
A 22-year-old woman of Malay ethnic
origin, presented with redness and
burning sensation on her face which
started two days before consultation.
Initially, lesion appeared on her left
cheek then gradually involved other
parts of her face. On further questioning,
she explained that she had applied
a homemade natural remedy for her
acne using cinnamon, as advised by her
grandmother. Cinnamon bark was first
powdered and mixed with water to create
a paste and applied over the acne lesions
and left overnight. Smiting sensation
and erythema first appeared on the third
day of application. Clinical examination
revealed multiple erythematous patches
and over cheeks, chin and philtrum.
Multiple closed comedones were noted
on the forehead (Figure 1a). Lesions was
confined to the face and other parts of
the body were not involved. There was
no significant personal or family history
of allergy or atopy.
A 16-year-old girl of Indian ethic origin
presented with asymptomatic dark
Homemade Remedies Causing Dermatitis
Med & Health 2013; 8(1): 37-41
Figure 1: a) Multiple erythematous patches are seen over the cheeks, chin and philtrum. Few
closed comedones are noted on the forehead. b) Dark brown to black patches withill defined
marginsare noted on the cheeks. Open and closed comedones are seen over the cheeks, temple
and forehead.
brown pigmentation on her cheeks.
She had applied lime juice on both
cheeks as a remedy for acne as advised
by her mother. Lime juice was applied
and left overnight. Lesion was observed
the following day after returning home
from school. Clinical examination
revealed dark brown to black patches
on both cheeks. The lesions had illdefined margin and scales were absent.
Multiple open and closed comedones
were noted over the cheeks, temple
and forehead (Figure 1b). No other skin
lesions were noted elsewhere. Personal
or family history of allergy or atopy was
Contact dermatitis is an acute or chronic
secondary to contact with a certain
allergen on the skin. Allergic contact
dermatitis is a delayed hypersensitivity
reaction (type IV) affecting those with
previous sensitization. The delayed
reaction may take hours up to days
after allergen exposure before reactions
manifest. This reaction takes place in
two phases. Phase 1 is the induction
phase, where the immune system
is sensitized to a particular allergen
while phase 2, triggers the immune
response resulting in the manifestation
of overt clinical symptoms (Kimber et
al. 2002). The distribution of the lesions
serves as a clue to the diagnosis of
contact dermatitis where the lesions
correspond to the areas of contact
between skin and the allergen. Linear
or splash lesions may be due to contact
with fluids while rounded lesions may
be a result of application using fingers.
The first patient described in this
case report, had developed contact
dermatitis to cinnamon. Cinnamon
condiment obtained from the bark
of the cinnamon plant. The volatile
essential oil (cinnamaldehyde) causes
Med & Health 2013; 8(1): 37-41
irritation upon contact with the skin
and oral mucosa (Tremblay & Avon
2008). Nutmeg, paprika and cloves are
some of the other spices that have been
shown to cause contact dermatitis (van
den Akker et al. 1990).
The second patient depicts a case
of phytophotodermatitis. The psoralen
in lime causes a chemical reaction
which sensitizes skin to the ultraviolet
rays from the sun. Besides citrus fruits,
other plants which can cause a similar
reaction include carrot and celery
(Robert et al. 2008). Contact with these
plants, vegetables or fruits followed
by exposure to the sun, results in
dark pigmentation, mild inflammation
or vesicles in severe cases. Chelitis,
perioral and periorbital dermatitis
have also been described secondary
to contact with lime (Thomson et al.
2007). The reaction may occur within a
few hours and the affected area usually
heals with hyperpigmentation. This
reaction is believed to be secondary
to D-limonene found in the peel oil
(Matura et al. 2002). Some fragrances
and flavourings using citrus peel oils
mayalso cause a similar reaction (Duus
Johansen 2002)
Diagnosis is made based on history
and physical examination. Patch test is
the gold standard method to confirm
the diagnosis of contact dermatitis
however it must be remembered
that false negative results are not
uncommon (Spiewak 2008). The
allergen may be identified with
certainty when a similar lesion appears
on reintroduction of the allergen.
The most important step in managing
a case of contact dermatitis is to identify
and eliminate the causative allergen.
Leelavathi M. et al.
Lesions gradually resolve upon removal
of the offending agent and may take
between two to four weeks for complete
resolution depending on the extent and
severity of the insult. Emollients may be
used to sooth the skin and short term
topical steroids may help speed up
recovery. More severe symptoms such
as vesicobullous lesions or extensive
lesions may require a short course of
systemic steroid. Post inflammatory
hyper or hypopigmentation is a well
includes avoidance of using cinnamon
or any of its derivatives on the skin
and washing the parts in contact. Care
should be taken after handling lime
or citrus fruits by through washing of
the hands before getting outdoors to
prevent phytophotodermatitis.
counselling about using homemade
remedies. Although cinnamon has
anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial
properties which form the basis for acne
treatment, it needs to be processed to
achieve the appropriate concentration
before it can be used for this purpose.
This process is complicated and is not
easily achievable in our homes (Daud
et al. 2013).
There is a need to create awareness
among physicians and patients of
traditional or homemade remedies
which may be harmful to the skin. This
could avoid adding insult to injury in an
attempt to self-manage skin conditions.
Since acne is a common condition
affecting almost everyone at one stage
of their life, it is prudent to inquire into
Homemade Remedies Causing Dermatitis
self-management practices especially if
contact dermatitis is suspected. Upon
diagnosis with contact dermatitis,
adequate management and advice
on future avoidance of the offending
agent would help prevent similar
episodes. Patient education regarding
the availability of a wide variety of
established treatment for acne needs
to be emphasised through community
education and counselling in an effort
to reduce the incidence of inappropriate
self-management for this common
The authors would like to thank the
patients for their consent for publication
of the case and images.
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